Are you asking illegal interview questions?

by Hannah Norton17 Apr 2015
Have you ever asked a job applicant on their plans to have children, their religious denomination, or whether they drink or smoke?

All of the above are unlawful in Singapore.

But if you have, you’re not alone – a CareerBuilder survey released this month showed that one in five employers has unknowingly asked an illegal interview question, with at least one in three employers unsure about the legality of certain interview questions.

The following questions  are definitely off the cards:

- What is your religious affiliation?
- Are you pregnant?
- What is your political affiliation?
- What is your race, colour or ethnicity?
- How old are you?
- Are you disabled?
- Are you married?
- Do you have children or plan to?
- Are you in debt?
- Do you socially drink or smoke?

Leading Singapore employment lawyer Susan de Silva, partner at ATMD Bird & Bird, told HRD Singapore the above questions are contrary to the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.

“The first principle of such Fair Employment Practices is that employers should recruit and select employees on the basis of merit (such as skills, experience or ability to perform the job), and regardless of age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities, or disability.

“These questions fall into the "regardless" group of considerations, and are inappropriate.”

An employer also runs the risk of breaching the Personal Data Protection Act with such questions, de Silva said.

“Singapore's data privacy laws [require] organisations to ask only for personal data which is reasonably necessary for the purpose for which the data is being collected. These questions [above] are not evidently necessary for the purpose of evaluating a person's ability to do the job.”

Companies with discriminatory hiring practices can expect to be subject to additional scrutiny by the Ministry of Manpower and, in serious cases, may have their work pass privileges for hiring foreign employees curtailed by MOM, she said.

de Silva provided some tips for employers around structuring interviews:
  • Have a list of selection criteria to be applied consistently to all candidates.
  • Prepare a list of interview questions directly related to the selection criteria identified and review whether these questions are relevant to the job.
  • Should questions which may be perceived as discriminatory be asked, the reasons for asking such information should be made known to the candidate to prevent misunderstanding. 
  • Undertake interviews with more than one interviewer, if possible, and ensure that interviewers are familiar with the principles of fair employment.

Areas of law employers need to be aware of when interviewing applicants include:

Personal Data Protection Act

Applicants' personal data collected by employers must be appropriate and relevant to evaluate the applicants for the job, and must not go beyond what is reasonable for job evaluation purposes.

TAFEP Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices
  • Employers should ask only questions which are relevant to assessing the applicant's skills, experience and ability to perform the job. 
  • Employers should not make recruitment decisions based on age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities, or disability.  


  • by Dave Bruback 17/4/2015 11:12:30 AM

    There are other ways to obtain answers to these illegal interview questions without having to explicitly ask them. The employer always wins.

  • by Chris Anthony 17/4/2015 5:08:00 PM

    The article is surely an eye opener to those who are into Job Interviewing who stray knowingly or unknowingly into asking such sensitive questioning.
    Job Interviewers must prepare themselves to asking intelligent and relevant questions so as to extract the required information from the applicants.

  • by Laverne Yee 3/6/2015 11:30:56 AM

    Many hiring managers in Singapore market are still asking those questions without knowing it's inappropriate and it has projected the level of unprofessionalism and culture of the organisation.

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